Galante Hit Paved Golden Path for Rizzutos

Canada’s most famous Mafia boss died last week right before Christmas, after dedicating the last year of his life to retaking his kingdom from usurpers and traitors.
Vito Rizzuto in his prime.

If Mafia history were taught in school, the date May 5, 1981, would be wrought with significance.

That was the day of the infamous three-capo take-down in Brooklyn, when Bonanno family loyalists took on three bosses who were forming a rival faction to take control of the family.

The loyalists won--and the family would continue to be run by its nominal boss, Philip Rusty Rastelli, a mostly impotent figure who held the top spot much longer than he would've liked in order to provide the true boss, Joe Massino, with cover.

Rastelli's reorganization of the family after an earlier insurrection attempt proved to be his legacy; with this one footnote to his otherwise bland and unremarkable career, he inadvertently enabled the Rizzuto family in Canada to grow into an organized crime group of global significance.

Owing to the view that Rastelli was weak (rather than emerging through natural selection or fighting for the top spot, he was appointed Bonanno boss by the Commission in 1974), insurrection was rife in the family. Years before the three-capo whackings, shortly after Rastelli was named boss and then, once again, sent off to prison, Carmine Galante made his infamous move to take over. He almost succeeded, to the extent that even street-smart gangsters like Benjamin "Lefty Two Guns" Ruggiero thought Galante was boss, according to what he told his pal, FBI agent Joe Pistone.

There is an old expression used by the Mafia in New York: You are only as strong as your boss. The truth is that Rastelli was a weak boss, chiefly because he was always in prison. Rastelli's long absences from the streets -- caused by his seemingly never-ending convictions -- was a key reason why the three "rebel" capos wanted to assume management of the family.

In the case of Carmine "Lilo" Galante, an earlier threat to the Bonanno family whom we will mention very soon, it was a sense of entitlement that fueled his motivation -- that plus the man's voracious greed and perhaps his diagnosis as a psychotic -- to take the big seat, though a stronger, on-the-street boss no doubt would have gone to war with Galante and his faction much sooner. As for Rastelli, even Massino was known to say behind closed doors: "The guy's always in the can!" A boss can't do much for his family when he's in prison.

Galante walked up to other made men in the family, stared them in the face (he was said to have had the coldest, deadest of eyes, eyes that betrayed an utter indifference to human life; Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce was said to have had the same kind of eyes) and asked them if they were with him. Whatever they said to their compadres afterward, these men offered Lilo some form of acquiescence just to be able to remove themselves from Galante's presence in one piece. This turned into a major problem for Bonanno bosses; they were afraid of Galante, weren't sure how things would shake up, and didn't want to wind up on the losing team.

Still, one Bonanno balked. Joe Massino. "I owe Rusty everything," he told Galante during a sitdown Galante had requested after he learned that Massino had been visiting Rastelli in prison; the fierce capo who thought he was boss made it clear that he wanted these meetings to stop.

Massino walked out, still breathing, and afterward was sitting in his brother-in-law Sal Vitale's car, nearly shitting his pants.

"He's gonna have me whacked," Massino said.

Massino found much favor when he went to Rastelli after his debriefing by Galante, and even more when he went to the Commission with his information about what Galante was up to. Turns out, the Commission had already been keeping a wary eye on Galante and had had about enough of him.

Once Galante was released from prison on parole in 1974 it was only a matter of a few days before he announced his intent. He ordered the dynamiting of Frank Costello's mausoleum, blowing off the doors. Other Mafiosi knew that Galante had set his sights far beyond one family and wanted to be anointed "Boss of Bosses" -- a position not held since Salvatore Maranzano met his bloody end in his Manhattan office decades earlier.

Lilo's last meal. Killing him freed up the Rizzutos' drug business.

By that time, but in that same year, the Commission had designated Philip "Rusty" Rastelli as the official boss of the Bonanno family. Rastelli was sent to prison a short while later. Galante considered himself the rightful successor to Joseph Bonanno, having served as underboss to the man; he remained loyal to Bonanno the rest of his life.

During the late 1970s, Galante -- bald, bespectacled and limping when he walked -- organized the murders of about a half-dozen Gambino family members in a move to assume control of the massive drug-trafficking operation he'd quickly made his own. He had declared war on both the Gambino and Genovese families as well.

Around then it was believed that Galante had begun importing Sicilians over to the U.S. because he thought the American Mafiosi were too soft. Sicilians were certainly arriving, but Galante wasn't the reason. He did take advantage of them, however, when other Mafia members were wary of these foreigners. As a result, the Bonannos had a large number of Canadian Sicilians in their ranks.

Massino was taking a chance by bringing what he was bringing to the Commission. You know who doesn't want a boss whacked? Other bosses. But he was in luck. Genovese crime family boss Frank Tieri had already begun building a consensus for Galante's murder, and was said to have even obtained the approval of none other than the exiled Joseph Bonanno. So when Massino brought the information about Galante to the Commission, along with Rastelli's official request to kill this usurper, the Commission was ready to order the hit.

Once Galante had been dealt with, Rastelli perhaps made his most significant contribution to the Bonanno family as boss: he reorganized the family, giving promotions as rewards to the men who had been behind the killing of Galante, including so-called zips from both Sicily and Canada.

Promoted to capo were one of Galante's Sicilian bodyguards, Cesare Bonventre, (at 28 years old, Bonventre is considered among the youngest captains in Bonanno crime family history).

Sal Catalano was given his own fiefdom in New York, and was named street boss of the family's Sicilians. (The Zips, back then, were based on Brooklyn's Knickerbocker Avenue, where Carmine "Lilo" Galante was shot to death at Joe and Mary's Italian restaurant. (For one of the best profiles of that hit, nothing compares to Ralph Blumenthal's Last Day of the Sicilians, which kicks off with the infamous hit during a notoriously hot New York summer.

The previous power there, Bonanno capo Peter Licata, disapproved of heroin -- and was summarily dealt with shortly after Catalano's arrival from Sicily.

Both these men were deeply involved in heroin trafficking for overseas taskmasters in Sicily. They distributed the heroin --cultivated inTurkey's potent poppy fields, and concocted by French Corsican chemists -- through New York pizza parlors -- hence, the later "Pizza Connection" name.

It was, in fact, a continuation of the old "French Connection." Whatever you want to call it, the importing of heroin via Sicilian organized crime through Montreal, but also elsewhere, and into U.S.-based Mafia distributors, which began in the 1940s, continues to this day, despite what William Friedkin thought...

The Sicilians in the Bonanno family were closely aligned with the Rizzutos, who began profiting immensely. They even had one of their own smack, dab in the middle: Gerlando Sciascia (pronounced shaa-shaa), known as "George from Canada," was a capo in the New York Bonanno family and was also the formal representative of what was then considered only the Canadian subsidiary of the New York Bonannos.

Rusty Rastelli
When Massino went back to the Commission, a few years later, about the three capos, there was somewhat less consensus. He wasn't seeking to whack a demon this time.

Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, the Genovese boss of "Oddfather" fame, was in business with Sonny "Red" Indelicato, who also had strong ties to the Colombos. Phil Giaccone and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera also were firmly entrenched wiseguys who were involved with members of other families in certain co-ventures as well.

Massino was told "no bloodshed" by the Commission and was sent on his way.

However, Massino returned. He revealed he had definitive evidence that Sonny Red and those aligned with him were readying for war, stockpiling automatic weapons. It seemed any day the hit parade was about to begin.

Massino was reduced to nearly begging to be allowed to take action. This time, the Commission gave in. Rastelli after all had been named boss by the Commission; Sonny Red and his cohorts made the mistake of letting the Commission know they were preparing to disobey the Mafia's board of directors.

It also is believed Paul Castellano was the first to acquiesce; he did owe the pudgy Massino, who had years earlier orchestrated the murder and disappearance of the Gambino boss's beloved daughter's abusive husband. (Roy DeMeo and his Murder Machine are believed to have done the actual work.)

"Defend yahselves!" Castellano told Massino and Rastelli. So they did.

It was an elaborate plan involving some shooters from Canada. The Bonannos used what they still considered a family subsidiary to import shooters who would not be recognized on the street.

One of the Canadians who came down to help with the slaughter was Vito Rizzuto, a soldier in the Bonanno family (at least that is what the Bonannos had thought). Rizzuto, who didn't attempt to hide his disinterest, was there perhaps to pay back the Bonanno family for providing its support when the Rizzutos were fighting with the Calabrians for control of Montreal. Also a factor: the Rizzutos needed stability in New York so the drug pipeline could continue to safely flow.

Vito, wearing a ski mask and clutching a pistol, was the one who leaped out of the closet when "George from Canada" Sciascia ran his fingers through his hair, the signal. Vito yelled "Don't anybody move! This is a stickup!"

A very one-sided gunfight ensued that left three capos dead on the floor, giant holes punched through their bodies and heads by many gunshots as well as whatever kind of ammo fired out of the greasegun Sal Vitale had been firing.

One of the Canadians was left permanently paralyzed, having been  hit by a stray shot. Vito saw to it that he got medical attention. The paralyzed mobster was visited by police while in the hospital. Despite his cruel wound, he still had the vinegar to tell them to shove it up their ass.

When the Pizza Connection was finally broke by law enforcement, so many people were involved and the case was so complex, it was decided not to pursue the Canadian Rizzutos. Pure luck saved Vito from being ensnared in the Pizza Connection case. It could have ended his career right then. Instead, the removal of Galante profited the Rizzutos by filling their coffers with outrageous sums of cash, with which they were able to continue to grow into a global force, which in turn opened the spigot of cashflow into a flood.

Gerlando "George from Canada" Sciascia.
In hindsight, the most powerful man, ultimately, to emerge from that basement where the rebel Bonanno faction was wiped out in one fell swoop was not Joe Massino. It was Vito Rizzuto who, as the writers of "The Sixth Family" have noted, was the last man standing.

Until last week, that is.

To the Bonanno family, Vito Rizzuto was long known as a member of its Canadian subsidiary. But Vito never thought of himself as such. Still, he played the role for them, especially when years later the Bonannos attempted to temper Vito's anger at Massino's covert assassination of Rizzuto's rep in New York, George from Canada, who was well liked among the New York Mafia. Among other things, George was too loud and opinionated for Massino's taste. George's final step was when he began openly advocating for the murder of a trusted Bonanno capo, a member of Massino's inner circle, TG Graziano. The Little Guy had been attending meetings looking glassy-eyed and stoned out of his mind. Gerlando complained to Sal Vitale: "You want that man representing us? He's a capo of this family and acts like a drug addict!" (Years later, in 2013, Graziano would be put on the shelf for his daughters' actions: producing "Mob Wives," a reality television show much loathed by Mafia members.)

Massino knew killing George would be widely viewed as unpopular. In fact, once it was over with and made public, Baldo Amato, a feared and respected Bonanno street level soldier went weeping to Vitale: "They murdered my compadre!"

"Who? Who did what? What are you talking about!" Sal said, trying to comfort the man.

A campaign was begun: Deny, deny, deny, which was enough in New York. A huge mob funeral was held for the affable, well-respected capo whose life had been snuffed during a "street mugging." Sal Vitale spread the word: the Bonannos had had nothing to do with Gerlando's murder; it was not a hit. Bonanno capos were told to load up and investigate. Whether other family members believed them was moot; even if the Bonannos had done the hit, they had plausible deniability. The best friends of of Gerlando would be satisfied that the Bonannos had handled the situation correctly, whatever the specifics.

But not in Canada. Vitale could deny it all he wanted, but Vito knew the truth: Joe Massino had taken it upon himself to kill Rizzuto's official representative in New York, the only man Vito truly trusted down in the U.S.

It became known to Massino that Vito was not happy -- and that he wasn't buying the cover story, either.

Sal made the journey all the way up to Montreal with the entire family administration, except for Massino himself, to try to make Vito happy by "promoting" him. Bonannos would travel to Canada often, to visit. The respectful Rizzutos ensured that their Mafia brethren from America were treated like royalty. Even a young Tommy "Karate" Pitera made some trips up north. But the fact that Masssino sent his own underboss and other high-ranking members seem to indicate he did have a greater level of respect for Vito.

This trip, the high-level contingent didn't get the royal treatment. Vito's blank and unresponsive gaze was their only reward.

"Who runs things up here? Who would be good captain materia?" Sal asked. He was waiting for Vito to take the hint and say "me." Vito took the hint but didn't say "me." He said, "We are all in charge up here. We all trust each other."

But Sal kept asking, and Vito didn't take the bait. His response actually was the truth. They were all in charge and they did trust each other. Vitale was offering the boss of a family that was composed of several families, both Sicilian and Calabrian, a promotion to capo, head of a decina, which means 10 people -- though most capos in the Bonanno family had much smaller crews at the time.

Eventually, perhaps owing to weariness, Vito said his father, Nicolo, was in charge. Massino wasn't going to promote the 70-year-old senior Rizzuto, and later lamented to Vitale that he (Massino) should have ordered Vito to take the job...

There was only one John Gotti.

Vito Rizzuto and his father had used the Bonannos when they could, just as the Bonannos had used the Rizzuto family when they could. It was a mutually beneficial relationship for both, until it stopped being so. It stopped being so for Vito first -- and it took the Bonannos and the rest of the New York families a long time to realize who that man was that they were dealing with up in Canada.

The Montreal Rizzuto family was managing a global drug business and was dedicated to enriching it. Vito must have felt like a huge furtive fish, a shark, in a small guppy-filled pond when it came to the New York mob.

In the end, Canada’s most famous Mafia boss -- there likely will never be another like him -- died last week, two days prior to Christmas, in a hospital bed rather than on the street with a gun in his hand. After dedicating the last year of his life to retaking his kingdom from usurpers and traitors, and those who had killed his father and son, both named Nicolo, he probably died at peace -- and just maybe in a state of grace. A large church held a well-attended funeral for Vito. Canada is so unlike the U.S., where men like Vito are denied such ceremony by the Catholic Church. John Gotti was denied a proper funeral, as was his predecessor, Paul Castellano.

All the turmoil that marked Rizzuto's final years -- the murders of both his father and son, as well as his trusted brother-in-law and others --  he could blame on the Bonannos and the event of May 5, 1981: the killing of three rebel capos for the benefit of Joe Massino ultimately. Vito could have done business with whomever was in charge. Sonny Red and his son, Bruno, had also made treks up to Canada, after all.

And for helping Massino, he was fingered by the mob boss, sometimes called the Last Godfather, who flipped after losing his trial and facing the death penalty. In the end, Massino proved to be without the requisite balls. Vito probably regretted not backing Sonny Red's faction; but then it was Rastelli who promoted all his cugines in New York for participating in Galante's death.

The irony of Vito's stint in a U.S. prison -- during which his blood and Mafia families were attacked and an attempt was made to exterminate the Rizzuto name --  is that the Canadian authorities had practically given up on the aging mob boss. Vito had won so many criminal cases that the law began to shy away from him; they'd only proceed if they had an iron-clad case against the wily Don. It seemed they never managed to get one. And though the inevitable comparisons to John Gotti have long been made, they are not true. Vito had a damn good lawyer who legitimately won cases or legitimately got them thrown out of court. Sometimes, the most loyal underlings would protect Rizzuto by immediately pleading guilty to end the case before the law could try to use it as a stepladder to climb up to the boss.

Vito at the pinnacle of his power....
Some of those men who plead guilty for Vito would later lose this iron-clad loyalty. Maybe they were too old and were taken by inertia... Maybe they believed Rizzuto really was finished (it is not known when Vito was first diagnosed with cancer, and whether anyone in Montreal organized crime knew of his terminal condition). Whatever the case, some of the bullet-riddled bodies found in the streets during Vito's blood purge were the very men who, decades earlier, had fallen on the sword for their boss.

Vito is often called Canada’s Teflon Don. Vito had many of the attributes ascribed to John Gotti -- both were well-tailored, charismatic figures who walked with a swagger -- and were known for their victories over the law.

Vito spoke four languages. Gotti kinda spoke one--and I don't think he knew more Italian than I do.

Vito Rizzuto was the Last Godfather.

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  1. Good article Ed... I reposted it on The Black Hand Forum and it is starting to produce some conversation. You may want to visit?

    That invitation is also open to anyone who may want to join up there

    1. Thanks! Glad you posted it now -- I've finally finished revising it!

    2. I edited my post on Black Hand..... it now shows your Updaded version.

  2. Where did you get the info that Frank Tieri got approval from Joe Bonanno to kill Galante? Which book, article or testimony? I've certainly missed it in my years of research.

  3. Surprised no ones asked me about the six Gambinos whom Galante whacked. I appreciate this critical feedback; I am going to address any issues raised in the story with another version; I will include footnotes. I see a larger problem with this story. Because it was so long I left out vital details. But with 100% honesty I welcome everyone to tear this one apart so I can work up a solid footnotes story...

  4. ...Once I can lose this hangover!

  5. My next feature is dedicated to this question.


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